Back in May 2009, I talked about value of the Business Analysts (BA) to a company and a project in facilitating communication among stakeholders, making certain that users are effectively represented in requirements definition and testing of software products, and bringing a broader context to the project. (Business Analysts – the unsung heroes of successful projects)
I recently read an article by Derrick Brown and Jan Kusiak—an update from their 2003 article—called What is a Business Analyst. The article caused me to reflect on how a project manager can help a BA do their job and thereby help the project and the organization. I recommend the article to you in its entirety. However, here are a few key observations and comments:
- The BA’s job is to identify the business’s requirements as well as the specific requirements of the client.
- The BA should extract real needs not just wishes and desires.
- BA’s are skilled in analysis, modeling, interviewing, presenting, and writing.
How do BAs do their job?
A survey in 2008 by the International Institute of Business Analysts (and reported by Brown and Kusiak) found that 68% of BAs were knowledgeable of waterfall development methods, iterative development (46%), object-oriented (44%) and agile (34%). In terms of tools, the same survey reported that BA’s use flowcharting (63%), use cases (55%), data flow diagrams (42%), activity diagrams (38%), context diagrams (34%), entity relationship diagrams (30%) and business process modeling notation (13%). BA’s use interviews with stakeholders as one of their primary data gathering and analysis tasks.
How to Help the BA
First, it is important to accept that the project manager and the BA are on the same team. Finding the right balance between project goals, client needs, and organizational objectives should not be an adversarial process. Although the BA brings many skills and a broad, general knowledge to his or her job, the project manager better understands the implementation details including possibilities and issues unique to the organization. Therefore, it is important for the PM to be able to articulate capabilities and constraints, supported with data, when converting requirements into actions and schedules.
The BA works with data and information gleaned from interviews with clients, users, and staff. You can help by recommending individuals to be interviewed that have the depth of knowledge and the ability to organize that knowledge in a coherent fashion for the BA.
The communication between the BA and clients or users is two-way. If you or team members need clarification about expectations and requirements, as they exist in the user’s world, ask the BA to help you gain better insight. Explain clearly the implications of the stated requirement to the execution of the project. “Yes, we can give each user control over report screen data entry. However, that will require developing a semantic translation module in the infrastructure to convert entries into usable data. This will make the product more difficult to maintain and slower in execution.”
Make sure your BA understands your development methodology and tools. Although BAs have a broad general knowledge and continuing education, they do not know everything about everything. Offer to provide an overview or tutorial about unique aspects of your project work. Do this in the spirit of camaraderie, not in a condescending way. Remember, your BA knows many things you do not know, too.
Take advantage of your BA’s knowledge of the business world and contacts outside of your experience base. Ask questions, engage in dialogue, and ask for help. If you need a resource to support your execution, such as a tool or a specialist, the BA may be able to help you get what you need. He or she may suggest ways to present a business case to the decision-makers that will significantly increase your chances of success or help find a niche specialist to solve a problem.
Provide your BA with workspace and support services if those are not readily available in your work area. Make it a point to interact with the BA frequently and be friendly. Introduce the BA to the development team and provide a bit of background on the key players that will help him or her find the right person when needed. In addition, include your BA in the informal interactions of the team members.
I am sure many of you have other great ideas about how to help a business analyst, so please share.